Article 23: Hong Kong passes tough security law fought by protesters for years

Hong Kong has passed a tough security law which authorities say is necessary for stability, but which critics fear will further erode civil liberties.

Article 23 targets new offences like external interference and insurrection, and penalties include life sentences.

It was fast-tracked through its final stage by the city’s pro-Beijing parliament in less than two weeks.

Article 23 expands on a controversial national security law (NSL) earlier imposed by China.

That law already criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in Hong Kong.

But Hong Kong’s leader John Lee has said Article 23 is also necessary to guard against “potential sabotage and undercurrents that try to create troubles”, particularly “ideas of an independent Hong Kong”. He hailed its passing as “a historic moment Hong Kong people have been waiting for over 26 years”.

China’s Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang earlier said swift enactment of the new legislation would protect “core national interests” and allow Hong Kong to focus on economic development.

Scores of people have been arrested under the NSL since it was passed in 2020, which critics say has created a climate of fear. Amnesty International’s China director Sarah Brooks said the new law “delivered another crushing blow to human rights in the city”, while Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch, said it would “usher Hong Kong into a new era of authoritarianism”.

“Now even possessing a book critical of the Chinese government can violate national security and mean years in prison in Hong Kong,” she said, calling on the government to repeal it immediately.

The law has also been criticised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk – who called it “a regressive step” – and the UK’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who said it would “further damage rights and freedoms” in the former British colony.

Hongkongers have also voiced concerns over Article 23, particularly over the use of broad and vague definitions in the legislation.

Civil servant George told the BBC he was most concerned about its definition of “state secrets”.

“Let’s say a group of colleagues go out to lunch and discuss how to handle some work matters. Will it constitute leaking a state secret? Will we be arrested if someone eavesdrops and spreads the information?” he said.

“I am very afraid that we can be accused [of the offence] easily.”

George said he had observed an “informant culture” among his colleagues since the earlier law came into force. He estimates that about one-fifth of the employees in his department have resigned in the past three years, with many of them moving overseas.

“I won’t talk so much about work with friends any more. Just focus on eating, drinking and having fun,” George said.

Corporate consultant Liz has similar concerns over the new “external interference” offence, which include receiving financial support or direction from foreign governments, political organisations or individuals, among other “external forces”.

“The definition of ‘international organisations’ is very broad. Aren’t foreign investment banks and businesses international organisations?”

Liz, who has moved to Singapore, is worried that she would be put at risk of being prosecuted whenever her company publishes research reports with her name on them.

Leave a Reply